And that was just the first day. The second day we went to Selma, visiting the Jackson home, where Martin Luther King, Jr. had lived for six months planning the Selma-Montgomery March. In that intimate, personal setting – just an unfunded, private home preserved as a museum – we saw many artifacts from the involvement of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Ralph Bunche, and others. None was more moving than the plain galvanized bucket by a chair in the bedroom where Dr. King had washed the feet of his companions the night before Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday was the beginning of the march, the part you’ve seen in photos, as people walked peacefully across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were attacked with German shepherd dogs and clubs; where young John Lewis was beaten bloody. We saw the private memorial to Viola Liuzzo, the mother of five who came from Minneapolis to help carpool Black marchers and was shot in the head by the KKK as she sped from them on the highway.
In the afternoon, we went down to Hayneville, where Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian, jailed for protesting segregation, was shot dead upon his release when he stepped between the shooter and Ruby Sales, a Black teenager. Our small group ended the day with a performance artist in shackles enacting the pleading screams of an (actual) enslaved woman whose fifteenth child was being sold away from her, looking each one of us individually in the eye as she pleaded from the floor. We walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Going there is not easy.
There’s another kind of going there that is just as important. It takes more time, more investment, but it’s right there, where you live. It will be different for each person, depending on you and on your context, but it’s there for you to find. This is how it’s working for me right now. I have been involved in a new initiative with The Underground Kitchen, bringing disparate people together around the table to engage issues of food justice and race in Richmond. At the first dinner, I met Duane Brown, the workforce development director of CHAT (Church Hill Activities and Tutoring) near Creighton Court, and the Front Porch Café, about which I’ve written before. We got to know each other better, and over lunch at the Café last week, Duane introduced me to Pastor Mary Gleaton.
Pastor Mary was called by God to abandon her dream of suburban ministry to live across the street from Mosby Court, a Richmond housing project riddled with gang violence, and to minister mostly to the children and youth who have no stable adult to help them find a better life. From her small, dilapidated but well-loved church building, she mentors, tutors, distributes untold quantities of food, dispatches lunch bags to the homeless, teaches, and preaches. She has sponsored a drum line, a ballroom dancing class, and her own version of Daughters of the King – now co-ed – and much more. Shaking slightly as she does it, she confronts dealers mid-deal, commandeering them to deliver Mother's Day baskets in Mosby Court. She told story after story of shootings in the projects; kids that sleep under, instead of in, beds, for fear of their lives; her work in preventing high-school pregnancies. She’s been at it there for 18 years; her 78th birthday is coming up. Everything she does is infused with Scripture, with preaching, and with the profound love of Christ. You’ll be hearing more, I hope, about Pastor Mary.
There are ways out of this mess that we are in. But we have to go there. We who could avoid it if we want to, are obligated by that very privilege to renounce the privilege, to go to the places where the true stories are told, to bear witness. We have to go to the places where the Pastor Marys are at work, leading the young people. We have to join with the risen Christ in re-making the world that humanity has broken; we must bear joy and peace and hope and justice and material resources to places of struggle and sorrow. We have to go there.
In his last few words on earth, after the Resurrection and before the Ascension, Jesus said, Go. Go into the world. Remember that I am always with you, until the end of time. And so he is – in the suffering, in the sin, in the redemption, in the renewal. If you want to see Jesus – go there. Go there.
Your companion in the journey,
Bishop Jennifer Brooke-Davidson